The study of truffles is a relatively new science due to the fact that it has only been in the last one hundred and fifty years that any valid scientific study has been carried in this field. Today, more than one hundred varieties are known: amongst these some are toxic (though not life-threatening), others are extremely valuable, while others again are less expensive being more widely found and being less flavoursome.
The most valuable of all is certainly the white truffle from Piedmont (Tubar Magnatum).
It is whitish-grey in colour and has an a very intense fragrance. Due to the fact that it conserves it's aroma very well, it is preferably eaten uncooked. It matures between October and December and is found mainly in the Piedmont region, though it can also be found growing in the Marche, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Umbria .
In Piedmont, around Monferrato, Val Cervina, the Langhe, Valle Grue, Val turone, the white truffle, also referred to as the Alban truffle, can be found in abundance: It grows in synchrony with the roots of fifty or so different types of plant at a level of twenty centimetres below ground; amongst which the most favourable is that of the oak though the holm oak, the poplar, the willow, the lime and the hazel-tree, to cite some of the best known are also perfectly suitable. In the roots of these trees the truffle grows spontaneously, a great resource that has, however, been generally on the decrease in recent years as a result of pollution and environmental degrade. Fortunately, in Italy there is an ongoing tree-planting scheme that will greatly favour the spontaneous growth of truffles. In recent years accurate studies into the cultivation of truffles has been carried out in order to arrest the progressive decline in their number. The country at the forefront of this has been France, with Italy closely following suit. Encouraging results have already been attained for the black truffle (Tuber melanosporum vittadini), while for the white truffle of Alba the scientists' work has not produced notable findings. It is a question of indirect cultivation: the truffle itself was not cultivated but rather the plant favourable to the growth of truffles, creating, that is, the ideal conditions for the natural formation of truffle.
The necessity to increase production goes hand in hand with the growing demand for truffles, which, beginning in the nineteen sixties, has developed with the evolution of our culinary and eating habits. Likewise many recipes, largely, though not exclusively from Piedmont, that make use of the truffle, are on the increase: from 'crostini al tartufo'(a garnished slice of toasted or fried bread), made with anchovies, garlic, butter and thin slices of truffle, and vol-au-vent, and to the, by now, famous truffle fondue which is widely diffused not only in Piedmont but also in its region of origin, the Valle d'Aosta (this dish, however, has met with little commercial success in the packaged-foods industry); recipes such as the pizza made with yellow flour, Piedmont style risotto, the "monton d'or" style fillet, brain cooked "Queen Antonietta" style, patŔ made from truffled goose liver, just to mention a few of the dishes in which the truffle is an integral part and not just an additive, which of course it can also be; the truffle, besides being a basic ingredient in a dish, for whomever adores its very particular flavour/smell, can also be used to enrich a wide variety of foods with excellent results. A sprinkling of truffle can enliven even the dullest of plates; it is enough to imagine the result one might attain in adding it to a dish such as a fried egg or to a simple chicken breast.
People from Piedmont have a great appreciation for a sprinkling of truffle and make ample use of it, naturally in the season when it is found, as its life-span is as brief as it is intense and requires it be sold almost as quickly as it needs to be consumed.